(From “Topics of the Open Forum”)
Is there any difference between the capital punishment of the Old Testament and the capital punishment of today?
In the Bible, God indicates that capital punishment (physical death), is a penalty for a great many different wrong doings or sins. For example, if someone committed fornication, he could be stoned to death (Deuteronomy 22). If a son constantly disobeyed his parents, he could be stoned to death (Deuteronomy 21). Of course, murder also brought capital punishment. We read in Genesis Chapter 9, verse 6, “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.”
These laws were given in order to emphasize the fact that the wages of sin is death. We read in Romans Chapter 6, verse 23, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
When a son rebelled against his parents, it was like the human race (which was created in the image of God), rebelling against God. We are not stoned to death because of our rebellion, but we are subject to something far worse, that is, the second death, which is eternal damnation.
The person who commits fornication or adultery is like someone who sins against God; he has committed spiritual adultery. The Bible speaks of many sins that subjected the sinner to physical death, which is a picture of the fact that sin leads to the second death, eternal damnation.
Regarding the question of capital punishment today, the Bible says that the government has the right to take life. We read in Romans Chapter 13, verses 1-4, “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.”
The government rules by divine mandate, and it does not bear the sword in vain. The sword is used for killing. The government is mandated to protect the citizenry, and at times, the government may take life, that is, administer capital punishment.